Nationals Baseball: July 2017

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Going for it ^= ALL IN

OK it appears that yesterday's post was read as a plea for the Nats to go all in. I'd like to say I don't see where you were getting that - but I can totally see where you were getting that. This is what happens when you run through one draft and a quick editing check. I was hoping that saying that I didn't think the Nats should trade Robles would clarify that point but apparently not. So to clarify

I wasn't saying :


I was saying

It would be advisable if they address at least one of the three potential 2017 issues with a trade prior to the playoffs because while the chance all three come to bear is very unlikely, the chance that one does is not that far-fetched. Better to reduce the odds by attempting to eliminate one. Also, while looking into these issues, I would like it if I saw news that the Nats were addressing them in a way to deal with that uncertain future. I would love it if they could manage to address these issues without mortgaging the future in any significant way."

To put it into practical terms :

Fedde and Soto for Alex Cobb and Jay Bruce? RUN AWAY

Fedde and Soto for Sonny Gray and Andrew McCutchen? I'm listening. Doesn't mean I think this is available or that the Nats would do it but I it's the type of thinking that I want to hear the Nats are doing. Longer term thinking (which I think they do) not necessarily tied to payroll (which I think they are hesitant about)

Hope that makes my point a little clearer.

Another thing I want to note : Somewhere in the comments was a "With Werth gone the Nats have that money (21 Million) to fix some problems"  Well... no.  We can even ignore the Doolittle/Madson costs for now. Murphy is making 5.5 million more next year - 15.5 Million left. Bryce is making 8 million more. 7.5 million left. Eaton is making 2 million more. 5.5 Million left.  Do you want Adam Lind back? Of course you do. He mashes righties. He's due to make 4 million more. It's all gone pretty much! OK so you let Lind walk. Well then, you don't think Rendon (5.8 Million) and Roark (4.3 M) and MAT (580K) won't eat up 5.5 million in arbitration raises? (Spoiler: They will)

And like I said that's before you consider the 12 million that Doolittle and Madson will cost next year.  Oh and did I mention the best part? I didn't. Here it is.  That 21 million of Werth money is only coming off the books for luxury tax purposes. Werth actually deferred 10 million of his 2016 salary to 2018 so they are only paying 11 million less.

Basically the team you see today? That's the team that will be there in 2018 with some fringy edge changes, unless the team makes a deal or adds more payroll. But it's a good team! A playoff team.

And as for 2019 being cloudy, that's just the truth. The fact that after 2012, that 2013-2015 was pretty clear, and 2016 wasn't completely cloudy is the exception. Often you can't go more than a year or two at the best and feel confident. Three years feeling really confident and one sort of four years out? That's crazy! So 2019 being cloudy doesn't mean anything. It's typical. It's not bleak, it's cloudy.  You know what? 2017 was cloudy during 2015. Then Trea Turner kept developing like you'd hope. Then Joe Ross was unexpectedly good to finish year. Then Murphy was signed and magically became an MVP. Then Strasburg signed an extension. Suddenly, by May of 2016, 2017 (and really 2018 too) were pretty clear. It can happen just like that. 

So this is not gloom and doom. This is Nats are in a good spot for this year and next and there is the standard uncertainty about the future, which Rizzo and luck worked through once, beyond that.The Nats remain in a good position. I'm hoping Rizzo works and the Lerners pay now to make that true for 2019 and maybe beyond.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Going for it

Last year the Cubs traded for Aroldis Chapman. Some people didn't like the trade. It's too much. They didn't need him. They were young and good and would be in the playoffs for years to come so why bother?

Fast forward to 11 months later and the Cubs had to streak just to get within three games of the Brewers and are even further out of the Wild Card.

Chances are fleeting. Nats fans should know this. In 2012 they were presented with an amazing situation where due to luck and skill all this talent coming from drafts, trades, and free agent signings coalesced to create what seemed like would be a four to five year window of dominance. To best take advantage of that time frame the Nats sat down Strasburg, saving his arm for the inevitable need in the future. But then the Nats managed to make the playoffs only twice in the next 4 years and even when they did Strasburg was never the tipping point. They won the division with ease and Strasburg made no impact in the playoffs.

The offense, with Werth and Turner and Eaton all currently out, has collapse potential. It would probably take an injury to one of the big three but that wouldn't be unusual as all have recent injury history. The starting pitching, only going 3 deep now and reliant on a Strasburg who hasn't gone beyond 150 IP in a few years and a oddly competent Gio Gonzalez, is worrisome for a playoff set. The relief pitching, was so bad that bringing in two very good arms only gets you back to the point where you probably need one more arm.  There are still fixes to be made, if not for starters able to win you a division, then for depth that keeps the team able to compete in case of some bad luck.

You can do the playoff dance again. Get in see what happens. Technically that's your best bet. Nats are all but in now and no longer have a gaping wound on the mound in the late innings. There are no pressing needs. But we don't know what 2018 brings*. We REALLY don't know what 2019 will brings.**  I'd have loved to see the Nats make another move or two. Seeing the deal as it went down, it's obvious Robertson was there for a song. Did they let it pass by because of the money? Because they feel they are done?

I'm not advocating selling Robles. Never have (I don't think). He's too good and at this point they need him to come up next year. But there's no one else I feel that way about in the pen. Make some moves. Get some guys who should be good for this year and next and make a full play at the WS title you want before the chances inevitably fade away.

*Really I feel next year is more about the NL East than the Nats who should mostly be similar. It's very likely they don't get the performances from Gio, Zimm, MAT, Lind, that they did in 2017 and Werth could be gone, but a healthy Eaton and Turner likely keeps the offense chugging along as one of the better ones in baseball, and Madson and Doolittle here for another year means the pitching will likely be solid. 

**This has the look of the year they will come down, although 2017 had that look too before the Max signing, Stras re-signing, and Murphy becoming a superhero. At this point Gio is gone (always season staff reliable even if I don't trust him for big games), Madson gone, and I wouldn't be surprised if they let Doolittle walk with his injury history. Murphy could be gone - though re-signing is possible. One one hand - this marriage seems to be fruitful for both. On the other, he'll be 34 in 2019. And the big one, Bryce could be gone. Also at this point Max/Zimm are 34. You are really hoping Robles is a star, Turner is a star, they've re-signed someone and that something else has come along. Or the NL East is still garbage.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Second half worries

I was going to do this on Friday but it would have interrupted the trade stuff and I wanted to get that out of the way. The Nats have a pretty clear run at the NL East title but that does not mean that they don't have any worries. In fact if you squint hard you can find a worry anywhere.

Catcher - These guys stink. Wieters is hitting a measly .245 / .295 / .377  and since the end of April is "hitting" a "robust" .219 / .246 /.313. That's nearing "Inaugural Guzman" territory. Making things worse is Wieters is not good in the field either making him a complete failure. Making things worse than that, Wieters' god-awful last few months are still better than Lobaton who's hitting .140 / .202 / .267

First base -  Zimmmerman's montlhly OPS's
April : 1.345 (AMAZING!!!)
May : .905 (ALL-STAR!)
June :  .791 (Solid Starter, though maybe not at 1B)
July : .631 (RIP)

Zimm doesn't field well anymore so if he's not hitting he's not helping and he's not helping right now.

Second base - Daniel Murphy got injured last year. It could happen again. This is also the worry for Third base (Rendon) and Right Field (Bryce)

Shortstop - Trea Turner is out and Stephen Drew (.273 / .309 / .386 - eh) and Wilmer Difo (.258 / .336 / .325 - bleh) are in. Drew is a roll of the dice and Difo hasn't hit well since A+ ball. But you can't also just wait it out because coming back from a broken wrist is not easy. Turner had been hitting better but he still wasn't generating the same power as last year and the wrist means he's unlikely to do so this year either. So BEST case is he comes back healthy and is a good Singly Joe.

Left Field - Where is Jayson Werth? In the midst of capping out the contract with one more miracle year, Werth hurts his toe and is never seen again. As he's aged Weth has been more prone to injury and has found it harder to come back from them so expect that if he comes back he won't be the hitter he was to start the year.

Center Field - MAT looked to be finally settling in to at least a passable starter, if not better and then suffered an oblique injury and will be back who knows when with an injury recovery bat. His replacement Goodwin has shown flashes of impressive play but is hitting .227 / .324 / .420  since becoming a starter. Those aren't starter numbers.

You may ask - if all these guys suck so much why are the Nats crushing it right now? Well Number one - Reds.  Number two - here are how Rendon, Bryce, and Murphy OPS'd that series.  2.107, 1.524, 1.500.  "Great" you say. "but three guys alone can't do all that damage." You're right. There are other guys hitting really well the past four games. Their names are Adam Lind, Ryan Rayburn, and Chris Heisey. Want to depend on those guys?

Starting Pitching - The Nats don't have a 5th starter and Roark had a terrible June that ended with him being strategically punted out of the rotation for a cycle or two.  It is completely reasonable to worry that he won't have any better a second half.  Strasburg has two numbers associated with him you should remember - 24 and 23. These are the number of starts he has made the past two years. Gio has been pitching well but we're all waiting for the other shoe to drop on him.  Max? Well I suppose he could explode on the mound.

Relief Pitching - The Nats finally have some arms! Doolittle and Madson should be good. But it's relief pitching so they'll throw like 20 innings and there's no guarantee they have to be good. And neither of them were closing games for the Athletics this year. That's not a high bar to jump over. So great stats or not, neither of them might be suited for a closer role either. Despite saving 30 games, the A's did not like Madson as closer. Doolittle is great but has thrown 74 innings in 2 and a half seasons and is probably best used judiciously.  There's room for improvement even from here for sure.

Did I properly satisfy the pessimists and nay-sayers? Good.

Now for the optimists - Who cares about this!? The Nats are going to win the division. Enjoy the baseball or go to sleep for two months. Either way it's the Nats in the playoffs back to back for the first time ever and anything can happen once you get in. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Mad, Son because they do little? Not anymore

The Nats made a deal to fix the pen.  How excited should you be?  Pretty excited.

The Nats are getting two great arms. Both Doolittle and Madson are having great years and have been consistently very good in recent history.

2017 Doolittle : 0.656 WHIP, 0.8 BB/9, 13.1 K/9
2017 Madson : 0.788 WHIP, 1.4 BB/9, 8.9 K/9

2015-6 Doolittle : 1.101 WHIP, 2.2 BB/9, 10.3 K/9
2015-6 Madson : 1.125 WHIP, 2.4 BB/9, 7.5 K/9

A lefty in Doolittle that is death to left handed batters (no hits to LHB this year) A right hander in Madson who is killer to righties (.177 / .226 / .253). Both though good against all batters. It's hard to see a downside with what the Nats are getting.

Of course we can try.  For Madson the worry would primarily be his age. Madson will be 37 soon and has already missed seasons worth of time due to a Tommy John injury. That was a few years ago and Madson has been fine since returning in 2015, but you still have to think of him as an old arm with a TJ surgery in the bank. That's not the best combination. We all saw how Joe Blanton dropped off a cliff dramtically and he didn't have the elbow history.  For Doolittle it's injury that should concern you. He has missed time in each of the past three seasons with the dreaded shoulder problems. So far rest has been enough to get him back on track but eventually it won't be. The other thing that might be an issue with Doolittle is that he wasn't all that good a righties last year. Both are over performing as well.

Those are the negatives. For Madson's age it's something to think about but hard to see how that's going to matter now 60% into 2017. I think it he was going off a cliff he would have already.  As for Doolittle, yes, that has to always be on your mind, but right now he's healthy and that's what matters most. His RHB numbers were never terrible so he doesn't have to LOOGY it unless he performs worse than usual. And while these two might, probably should, perform not as well as they have been, that really means they should be good to very good instead of great. There isn't much of a downside here for 2017.

So the Nats got two good arms. What did they give up?  Well Blake Trienen for one.  Based on the news from yesterday everyone lives Blake as much as the Nats did. He does have great stuff. High 90s heavy fastball. That's killer. His BABIP and LOB percentages suggest a bit of bad luck.  Last year Blake was one of the better middle relievers in the game.  He's not being paid and under control till 2021 (though he is older at 29).  Treinen could be very good.

Then again that's ignoring the elephant in the room, Treinen's history of pitching worse in more important situations. If the A's can't fix that the best you can hope for is one of the better 7th inning men in the game and that's not really worth all that much.

Sheldon Neuse is an overall talent who can do it all. Field, hit, run, pop. The question is if this jack of all trades can do any one thing well enough to be impactful. Luzado was a legit prospect who was Tommy Johned into a Nats bargain draft pick. He just came back and has been good but it's real early, he's real young and it's real low level.

Neuse reminds me of Max Shrock, the guy the Nats traded the A's for Repcynski last year. They are early in careers and still on the development path they should be. If they keep on that path, they will become useful pieces. If they surprise, and at this stage/age it's still certainly possible, they could be keystone players.  Luzardo is more of an "all or nothing" lowest of the low ball players.* It's the gamble Beane is taking.  Instead of taking the Billy Burns - guys you know are bench players or middle relief arms today - you take a chance to get something more.  But with players that you like to still be something even if they aren't.  It's sound strategy for a middle reliever.

For those that want to add Sonny Gray to the mix, a Sonny Gray would need something more. Something closer to a Robles or Soto. This will be true of nearly any starting pitcher that's not a FA next year or who the Nats aren't eating a large contract for.

This is exciting because the Nats needed multiple bullpen arms, at least two preferably three, and they've already gotten their two without giving up major prospect pieces. For those hoping they can add David Robertson this leaves that possibility completely open.  For those hoping they can add another rotation arm, this leaves that open as well.

Could it all fail? Sure. Anything can. But this is a far more sounder plan than relying on two talented guys that ended 2016 injured and a guy with one good year of middle relief in his history. When they all failed it was surprising. If Doolittle and Madson did it would be shocking.

*However give me lefty starters with stuff if you are giving this type of player because I like these guys transitioning into bullpen arms. Luzardo is this type

Friday, July 14, 2017

Starting Targets

These are the ERAs for Tanner Roark and Joe Ross respectively.

That was the ERA for Gio Gonzalez last year when we fretted over whether it was a good idea to start him in the playoffs.

The point should be obvious. If we were worried about Gio last year, we need to worry about Ross and Roark this time.  Ross is an obvious problem, with his on and off injuries and inconsistency over the past 2 years. But squint and maybe you can see an acceptable season for Roark so far. The problem is that good season was based on an unlucky start.  For June and July Roark has earned his terrible season. You can bet on Roark turning it around (and also with Gio continuing to pitch well) or the Nats can go out and get an answer. This may be the year to get an answer.

The foundation guys 
Michael Fullmer & Marcus Stroman - It's not that often that top of the rotation guys of these ages (24 & 26 respectively) are available, but the Tigers understand their rebuilding process may take a long time and the Blue Jays would be in the same position if they sell. Stroman's stats aren't as impressive as Fullmer's but Stroman has been doing it longer which reduces the chances he's just a flash in the pan (like the don't strike any one out Fullmer). Stroman has already begun the arbitration process, so he both costs more (3.4M vs 550K for Fullmer), and is under control for less time (2021 vs 2023) But Stroman would still be a great get. Fullmer just has the potential to be a phenomenal one. Either one can be looked at as a solid #2 type for the remaining time under control.

Of course given all that, the deals have to be amazing and it is likely what was offered for Quintana wasn't enough for Fullmer. The Nats would have a hard time offering more unless Robles and Soto both go. The other option would be to eat some contracts. I'm sure the Fullmer deal would be more acceptable if a Verlander or Upton or ZNN were attached. Again, not the Nats way. It's not necessarily the fact the Nats couldn't make a deal like this but getting one of these guys makes fixing the pen harder as you have lopped off the top of your minor leagues and have to be concerned about cutting deeper.

Long term rotation fixes
Gerrit Cole & Sonny Gray & Dan Straily - you have three distinct pitchers here. Gray is an ace type who suffered an injury in 2016 that brought him all the way back down. However, he is apparently recovering and should be good the remainder of this year. Cole is a guy with the best pedigree but has regressed over the past two years and in 2017 is nothing more than an average arm. He's a year younger than Gray but both are under control for the next two seasons and cost under 4 million currently. Dan Straily was a guy with potential who has bounced around several places trying to get healthy and figure things out. It appears that this year he has done it. He's a year older than Gray, but under control for one more season and super cheap 550K.

Straily seems the ideal target for the Nats, but being on the Marlins complicates things. They aren't rebuilding per se and they need pitching so why would they trade this piece? Selling high and getting a great return would probably do it, but I think he's worth more to the Marlins than anyone else. Cole isn't a set piece and the Pirates are not exactly sure where they are, both for this year and the next couple. That means Gray will get the focus as he's doing the best this year and will have the highest price.  While these are the standard Rizzo targets I'm not sure the Nats can get these players and unless part of a larger deal (Gray/Doolittle, Cole/Watson) the price still may be too high and might have an adverse effect on the bullpen fixes. Of course the Nats have never been a team to shy away from getting the best player available and hoping everything else works out. So don't rule this out

Long term rotation somethings that cost a lot of money
Johnny Cueto & Jeff Samardzjia & Justin Verlander - I'll put these out there because they are available but I don't see any way the Nats end up with one of these guys. They are all 20+M dollar arms with contracts through 2020 (Verlander) 2021 (Samardzjia) and 2022 (Cueto). None have shown the current performance or stable performance you'd want to even consider bringing in an arm like this. For the Nats to even consider a guy like this it would have to be packaged with something young, cheap, in control, and great (and there aren't many of those) or the selling team would have to eat a ton of money.  I don't think SF is there yet. Detroit might do that I guess so if anyone is coming to the Nats I'd bet on Verlander but that's not a bet any one should make.

The no-good-reason names that are out there
James Shields and Edinson Volquez - They aren't cheap (10M, 9M) they aren't young (35, 33) they aren't good now and haven't been good recently. Maybe you grab one to fill out a rotation, but these guys are also under contract for next year too. Sometimes that's a plus, but not here. Pass. Pass hard, pass fast, bump off the road while passing.

The rentals 
Alex Cobb & Marco Estrada & Jeremy Hellickson & Scott Feldman & Derek Holland & R.A. Dickey - lots of variation here where you can pick and choose the rental you like the best. Want a guy you might be interested in signing long term? Alex Cobb is your man. Tampa will always sell a FA to be even if they are in contention. Cobb is under 30 and not expensive and if right, he's good. Is he right? That K/9 is low but other things look good. Want just a guy to give you decent innings at the back of the rotation? R.A. Dickey or Scott Feldman should do the trick. Both are having fine years and have been good enough recently that you can feel pretty confident in their performance. Neither are terribly expensive though Dickey (7.3M) is much more expensive than Feldman (2.3M). Just looking for a cheap fill-in to keep your young arms in the minors and your terrible arms wherever it is terrible arms go? Derek Holland is your below average 1.5M dollar man. Want an expensive gamble? Marco Estrada (14.5M) has the recent success that might convince you a change of pace will get him back going. Want an expensive gamble but more risk? Jeremy Hellickson parlayed one good year into a 17.M dollar deal and is currently just filling time in Philly.

Cobb will cost the most because of his value overall and to the team. Everyone else should be available fairly reasonably. If the Nats were just looking for an arm to throw innings to make sure they don't blow the NL East I can see them picking up one of these guys. But I don't think the Nats are in that position. I think they know they can win the NL East with what they have so why bother picking up one of these guys? Still the right deal can make the Nats better for little cost. Personally I'm most interested in R.A. Dickey. That change of pace from the Max/Stras duo would be big, assuming he's not terrible that day.

I think in the end the Nats will kick the tires on Gray and if they can somehow get him and not forfeit the bullpen fixes, they'll do it. Otherwise maybe they bring in one of those fill-in arms acknowledging that it would be better than Cole/Voth/pitching machine they got going now after Ross. There's no real clear favorite among the rentals though. All have plusses and minus and none are guaranteed to be used in the playoffs.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Starting Offensive Targets

There's a lot of starting pitchers out there! As a break to myself we'll go over the offensive players the Nats could go after first. The same rules apply to today as yesterday.  The big difference between relief pitchers and offensive players is that young, good, contract controlled offensive players that have already played in the majors are rarely offered up in trade outside of rentals. That's doubly true mid-season.  That means the guys available are usually either old, expensive, or both and also still cost a fair amount in prospects. It doesn't mesh well with the Nats trading philosophy.  I believe the best mid-season Rizzo offensive deal was for Kurt Suzuki.

Why is this? Because offensive players are generally more impactful and more reliable. That makes them the players you build around. Relief pitchers are not that. Having a relief problem is bad, but it is solvable through mid-season trade. That can't always be said about offensive problems*

Alex Avila & Kurt Suzuki - Hey! Suzuki! Both these guys are FAs next year and making next to nothing baseball-wise in 2017 (2M and 1.2M) Alex Avila is having his best year in a long while and is vastly intriguing because he may be a product of the "launch angle era" He's a player who has always hit the ball hard, and because of it has always had a good BABIP. But being a slow catcher anything on the ground that could be reached was sure to be an out. This year he's hitting far fewer GBs (and striking out less). Of course like any good ballplayer Avila believes that he's just hitting fewer ground balls than he ever has in his career because he's healthy.  Sound familiar? If it's real you got yourself a great C bat. Defensively he's good behind the plate but has gone down as a framer in a way that you probably buy it being real. Suzuki is also having a minor resurgence but his is less revelatory. He's hitting more flyballs and a few more left the park than usual. Since he doesn't seem to be hitting the ball harder that's probably more luck than a real change. Which means Suzuki isn't a slightly above average bat but a slightly below one which is unsurprisingly what he's been his whole career.

The Nats are committed to Wieters for another season. They have to be, that's the contract. Because of that I don't think they will make a move at catcher.  That's fine as long as Wieters stays healthy. Avila is interesting but a gamble. Suzuki probably isn't much different than Wieters. But Lobaton is a garbage back-up.  Back-ups don't play that much so in theory it doesn't matter but if Wieters goes down the Nats are in big trouble.

JD Martinez & Andrew McCutchen & Justin Upton & Melky Cabrera & Jay Bruce & Curtis Granderson & Nick Markakis  - All these guys are expensive. Let's get that out of the way. We're talking contracts over 10 million which makes it unlikely that the Nats will pick these guys up. Another strike against them is that there isn't a slick fielding CF here,* which is what the Nats need right now if they are going to bother to bring in an outfielder.Why list these guys then? Well because conceivably the Nats could use another OF next year as Werth departs. So grabbing a guy now for then... well it's a classic Rizzo think ahead move. They may like MAT enough not to do this and a Bryce, MAT, Eaton OF would be very solid defensively. Then again a very good and reliable bat might be too much to pass up.

Upton is not coming. He's a good bat and decent enough in the corner but his contract goes on forever. There's no way the Nats will pay it or the Tigers will eat enough of it.  Even though you get him next year and the Braves might eat some salary, Markakis makes little sense as he's not good defensively and only average at the plate. Bruce, Granderson, Martinez, and Cabrera are all rentals who head to FA next year. Martinez is the prize - a very good hitter who's been consistent. Bruce and Granderson are what they are - which is dependable. Cabrera is declining but still better than average. None of them, though, are even pretend CFs so picking them up means shifting Bryce. Martinez is probably the only bat you do that for but as the "best available" he will likely go for a lot to someone more desperate for help.

This leave McCutchen. He can play CF. He has bounced back offensively. He has a team option for 2018.  The Nats had flirted with getting him and not Eaton in the off-season. If If anyone fits it's Andrew. But do I see the Nats doing it? I don't know. I think if the price is right, they could be tempted. Honestly I don't think the price will be too high but I think the Nats will have expended too much toward pitching to really make an honest play here.

Zack Cozart - It makes sense for the Reds to trade Cozart. He's a FA next year having a career year at 31 out of line with his history. You are trading high on something you very likely won't keep. He's a good defender as well so even if his bat declines in the second half back to his average history you are still getting an overall positive player. Oh, and did I mention he's making relative peanuts (5M) for this package? The good news for the Nats, if they are interested, is that the demand for SSs among contenders is low.** The cost for Cozart should not be pushed up by competing bids unlike starting and relief pitching.

If trading for anything outside of pitching, this is where I see the Nats going toward. You could even stick Trea back in the OF if you needed, when he came back.  All this being said the fit is not perfect. I can see them doing this but only if one of two things happen. They totally strike out getting pitching somehow or Turner is not coming back this season.  Both these things seems unlikely, so even the best starting offensive target remains a stretch for the Nats which is probably for the best.

*That's Lorenzo Cain who's team right now is not ready to give up 
**The same could be said for OFs but you can always stick a McCutchen somewhere or shift your worst fielding OF to DH in the AL.  

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Relief Pitchers - Targets

There is really no need to go into why the Nats need relief pitching but just in case you are curious :  They do have the worst ERA in the majors at 5.20 a good distance from the second worst (DET) at 5.04. Opponents are hitting them the hardest with an opposing OPS of .818, worst in the majors. They've blown 14 saves, which is a lot*, though not worst. This isn't a fluke. This isn't just timing or perception. The bullpen is terrible. It HAS to be addressed.

But who? Rizzo prefers guys who can be long term answers with cost control. The Lerners really prefer cost control. But both showed with the trade for Melancon and Papelbon, that they are willing to go for what they think might be the right short term answer, if it's available. What do we see this year?

Long-term answers, cost controlled
Roberto Osuna & Raisel Iglesias - both these guys are currently closers with solid stats both this year and in 2015/16. Both are controlled through 2020. Both are younger, Iglesias at 27 and Osuna a baby at 22. Osuna is CHEAP only costing 600K right now, while Iglesias, a foreign signing, is a reasonable 5 million or so a year for the next three years. These are ideal targets. That means of course that they will be expensive to get. It's hard to see Robles not being involved here, although if they like Soto a lot (and some do) it could start with him. "Start" is the key word here, though. Any deal centered around something less is you being a homer. It's hard to see Rizzo give up on a bat prospect for an arm so I don't see either of these things happening, but it's at least out there.

Long-term answer, expensive
Mark Melancon - this was the guy the Nats wanted to keep but couldn't as he fled to SF for a more traditional deal. He's hurt. He's not pitching all that well. He's not young (32). And he's expensive (43 mill still owed after this year) But he is a "proven closer" and the Nats have a psychological need as much as a talent one. Still I re-read that last sentence and think the Nats are only in on this if San Fran is giving him away.

Long-term middle relief help, cost controlled
Brad Hand & Arodys Vizcaino & Ryan Butcher - Here we start getting into more likely targets. The first two guys are a couple years into the majors (27 and 26 respectively), with good stats this year, inexpensive (around 1.5M) and controlled through 2019.  Brad Hand is the hotness because everyone knows the Padres will deal, however you do have to consider he was no good as recently as 2015.  Vizcaino is more reliable but is dealing with a finger issue at the moment. Plus it's unlikely the Braves would trade the Nats a long term piece. Ryan Butcher is an intriguing fellow, with big strikeout potential, a nothing contract (600K), and the longest control of anyone - through 2021. He's also 30, wild, and has limited experience. He's the gamble of the three. Hand will probably get bid up to be more expensive than he's worth so I see the Nats bowing out of that race. I see Butcher as a maybe but he's a 3rd arm dealt for.

Potential long-term middle relief, reasonable
Sean Doolittle - Doolittle is pretty much his own case. He is good, and he has been good. But he's not like these guys as he's under a real contract that will pay him real money. It's only 2.7 mill this year, but it jumps up to 4.4 next and is in the 6 million range in 2019 and 2020. The good news for the Nats is 2019 is a team option, and 2020 might be (mutual if certain things hit). He's had a little injury history but all in all everything here seems acceptable for how the Nats deal. The control, the talent, the injury history keeping trade cost lower than it might be, the fact that he's an A... I like the chances of Doolittle ending up a Nat. 

Not just this year - the young and usually cheaper
Justin Wilson & AJ Ramos & David Phelps - These are the guys who the Nats would have control of through next season. Wilson is having the best year but in general has been merely ok. He's a better choice than Phelps, who is around the same cost and age but less successful. Still decent mind you so not a terrible target, but you'd rather have Wilson. Ramos has the better history and is a closer though he's about three times as expensive (6.6M to around 2.6M for the other guys) and is nothing special this year. We're into short term guys at this point so intra-division deals are more possible. Ramos or Phelps would make decent "other arms" to pick up but I feel Ramos will cost a little more than Nats willing to pay giving his closer history. Wilson is a strong possibility

Not just this year - the old and expensive, closer edition
David Robertson & Jim Johnson - These guys fall under ths same category but are on two ends of the spectrum.  Robertson is established, having a good year, is younger in this group (32) and has a fairly decent history if you can ignore last year. Johnson is a 34 year old guy filling a role. The target seems obvious, as you can see Johnson age into ineffectiveness next year, but cost matters. Johnson is a 5 million guy next year. Robertson a 13 million one. That number is going to be hard for the Nats to swallow. Still I think they might as I think that they can get Robertson for a reasonable trade deal and he checks off everything they need. Johnson is only an emergency trade target as he's not going to solidify much and you'd be giving the Braves something.

Not just this year - the old and expensive, middle relief edition
Brad Ziegler & Ryan Madson & Jerry Blevins - Blevins is a great LOOGY and isn't old (33) but nothing more. The Nats probably need more flexibility than he can give them. Plus they burnt that bridge when they traded him away in one of the rare Rizzo losses just because he had the audacity to take them through arbitration. Plus I don't see the Mets dealing with the Nats. Ryan Madson is a great arm, even at 36, but to get him you'd have to swallow a nearly 8 million dollar salary next year (and whatever is left on this year). Even though the Nats have been paying more for middle relief that still seems high for them.  Brad Ziegler is even more expensive (9 mill next year), older (37), and frankly is skating by on luck so I hope they don't trade for him despite possibly the strongest recent history of anyone in all these lists. Age conquers all. I can see the Nats making a Madson or Zeigler deal only if salary is eaten on the other end.

The rentals
Pat Neshek & Tony Watson & Addison Reed & Joe Smith & Juan Nicasio - I don't care about age as much when we're dealing with guys who will be FAs at the end of the year but it matters a little I guess. Neshek is old (36), Joe Smith and Tony Watson more middling (33, 32) and Nicasio and Reed are on the younger side (30, 28).  Reed would honestly be a great get. He's consistently been a very good reliever for a while now. Even factoring in the largest contract here (nearly 8 million this year) I think it's worth it. Problem is it's the Mets and again I don't see that happening. Failing that, Neshek is having the best year but is the next most expensive at 6.5 million. Watson is still good but seems to be on a down turn and is over 5.5 million. Nicasio has a spotty history but we're getting more toward salaries that even the Nats can just ignore (or get the other team to easily eat) at 3.7 for the year. And that leads us to probably the best bargain of the group Joe Smith. I know I said I don't think TOR will sell and I don't, but trading a "FA to be" is different. Joe Smith isn't going to set the world on fire, but he's exactly the type of reliable veteran presence the Nats need. The problem is he's dealing with shoulder inflammation. But the way I see it is that that only makes him more affordable. Since the Nats need to fill up the pen with new blood it makes him the perfect 3rd arm gamble.

Conclusions : So today I think the Nats end up with Robertson, Doolittle, and Joe Smith. Note that this changes daily but I think they CAN get Robertson (unlike Osuna or Iglesias) without giving up too much and he gives them exactly what they need at the back of the pen. Doolittle just makes too much sense with his talent, affordable deal and lots of team control potential. Smith fits in as a third arm to throw in the mix for little to get as much stability through new faces as they can get. Though honestly this spot could be anyone I named above. In my mind it would be the cheapest 3rd arm they can get who is above average this year and not expensive.

This makes two guesses in a row involving Doolittle so I guess I see him as the most likely get.

*NL blown saves leaders - 1st ATL, 2nd  3-way tie PHI MIA WSN, 3rd 2-way tie NYM MIL.  NL EAST FOREVER

Monday, July 10, 2017

Trade Targets

Here we are. The All-Star break. The Nats haven't made it intact but in the past week they have proved that at the very least they are still no worse than the next best teams in the NL East and that is more than enough. Even if you hate the current MASH unit Nats and think they are equal to the rest of the dregs of the division, that still means the rest of the dregs have to play 10 games better than the Nats over the course of 75 games or so.

That may not sound like a lot but it is. Take a look at the standings. Only in eight instances has a team put 10 games between them and another team so far. And that's considering all the teams, with all their differences in talent, in more games. Nope the Nats are safe (until Scherzer and Bryce go base jumping) and we can turn our heads to the future now and that means fixing the Nats current issues.

That means trades for relievers, obviously. But it could also mean a trade for a starter. Ross has gone down with some ailment and hadn't been reliable before that. Roark is hanging on this season. Do you trust Gio in a big spot in the playoffs? It could also mean a trade for a catcher. Wieters/Lobaton could be the worst catching duo in the majors this year.  It could mean a 3rd OF.  MAT is now out and with no time table for return. Werth is still out and is 1000 years old in baseball years. Goodwin is hanging on by his fingernails right now as his stats keep on slipping, slipping, slipping into the 5th outfielder future. It could even mean a new SS as Trea Turner should be back but if the right deal is there, how do you turn it down?

So the Nats, who say a month ago might have been only focused on relievers are now open for business across the board.  What do the standings say about who's selling.

Prob Not : TEX, CHC, COL, NYM, TBR
Prob Yes : LAA, ATL, PIT

Doesn't matter, won't trade with Nats : BAL (Mets probably fit here too)

This is just my take based on what I've read and believe. Vaguely this reads as : teams currently in strong contention for a division title won't sell. Teams in WC contention, or teams that feel built for now even if year has gotten away from them, probably won't sell. Teams that aren't built for this year, but are on the fringes of playoff contentions, probably will sell. Teams that are in contention for nothing, will sell. Basically it's a combination of where you are, where you are trending, and what you felt going into the year. Also this list isn't set, things could change with a dramatic run or fall in the week or two after the ASB.

Anyway those the teams. Who are the players? We'll start going over that in detail tomorrow but a non-exhaustive list includes...

RP: Melancon (SFG), Doolittle (OAK) Wilson (DET), Neshek (PHI), Ramos (MIA), Robertson (CHW), Hand (SDP),  Madson (OAK), Blevins (NYM), Johnson (ATL), Watson (PIT), Reed (NYM), Vizcaino (ATL), Smith (TOR), Nicasio (PIT) Cuthcer (SDP),

SP: Stroman (TOR), Cobb (TBR), Cole (PIT), Quitana (CHW),Shields (CHW), Cueto (SFG), Samardzjia (SFG), Verlander (DET), Gray (OAK), Lynn (STL), Estrada (TOR), Hellickson (PHI), Volquez (MIA), Straily (MIA), Feldman (CIN), Holland (CHW), Dickey (ATL)
C: Avila (DET), Suzuki (ATL)

OF: Martinez (DET), McCutchen (PIT), Upton (DET), Cabrera (CHW), Bruce (NYM), Granderson (NYM), Markakis (ATL)

SS: Cozart (CIN)

What we see here is some hard truths. There are very few impact players available this year. Relief wise there are no shutdown relief types with a history of saves out there for the Nats. There are still good arms and a reliable save guy or two but not that big name. That could be good as the Nats don't have a deep system to trade from, but it could be bad because usually the prices stay relatively high for the best available. Notice the depth here takes a hit though if you pull the Mets and Braves out.  Since they likely are looking to 2018 they would have to win this trade or give the Nats someone that's a FA next year. Neither of those ideas match up with Rizzo's trade history.

On the starter side, what it lacks in stars, it makes up for in quality. If it were a normal season I'd fully expect the Nats to flip for one of these guys with a couple years of control.  The bats are weak in the areas the Nats may pursue. Catcher is extremely limited and with Wieters basically set for next year too I don't see them going for that. SS is basically one player (unless you want AsCab back) so cost will be high and it was a stretch to begin with so that's probably out. Outfield is the only one I see as a maybe but with all the high salaries here I'm not sure the Nats will find a partner. They'll be wanting the other team to eat a lot of cash. The other team will only do that for better prospects and the Nats probably won't sell the ones that matter.

OK so fill in any names you think are worth talking about. Tomorrow we go through relief arms.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Braves not done

At least not yet but they could be by the next time we get together in our little corner of the internet.

Unfortunately, losing your lead-off hitter and starting shortstop for a very long stretch changes things, and losing your streaking currently starting CF only adds to it. The Nats are now a different team from two weeks ago and thus they still have a division to win. But they could still do it relatively soon. Like this weekend.

Are the Braves a real threat? They do have a legitimite superstar in Freddie Freeman, a player good enough that they didn't dump him along with everyone else in their rebuilding effort a few years ago. He's back from injury and looks fine. Everything else though is a little suspect.

The next best bat in the lineup is Freddie's injury replacement Matt Adams, which is why Freddie is trying out 3B right now. Adams has been underrated in my opinion as a first baseman but his fatal flaw, that he can't hit lefties, can't be ignored. You can work around that somewhat but ideally he should be platooned. After that it's Matt Kemp who has been a solid hitter all his career. He should keep hitting, but he should also provide the Braves with a big sucking hole in the outfield. For whatever reason Tyler Flowers has blossomed in Atlanta and Kurt Suzuki is nothing if not a reliable back-up, making the bat at catcher an overall plus. You don't want to have to count on these guys to keep being above average but the Braves almost have to because this is the end of the above average bats on the team

Next come the average guys. The good news is that there is no reason to think these guys will falter in the 2nd half. The bad news is there is no reason to think they'll do better either. Phillips, Inciarte, and Markakis are all average bats who have been average bats for a while.

Who's left? The guy that's probably the key to the Braves 2nd half, Dansby Swanson.  He came out impressively last year putting up a line of .302 / .361 / .442  in his first 38 games but started amazingly bad in 2017.  He was hitting as low as .134 / .184 / .183  a month into the season and was still putting up an abysmal .193 / .276 / .301 line as late as June 6th.  If he hits like he did in June, which was a lot like his 2016, the Braves have a chance to be a decent offense. If not they'll struggle to be average.

Can then they be carried to something greater by their pitching?  It isn't likely. There was hope that if the Braves stabilized the back of the rotation with Dickey and Colon that Teheran and Garcia would provide a solid 1-2 and a young arm would emerge to round out the rotation. The only thing that worked out was Dickey being a stable #4 type. Colon was so bad he's already gone and Teheran and Garcia have both had major issues this year, especially recently. No young arm emerged as first choice Foltynewicz has been fair at best. That might be changing, he's had a better June, and Sean Newcomb looks ok, but the reality is that neither looks good enough to carry the team. The best case scenario looks to be a 1-5 that resembles a 3-3-3-3-3.

That leaves the bullpen to be the saving grace but again there isn't much to see here. Jim Johnson is the guy that proves the rule that Blake Treinen is an exception to. Anyone can go out and be a closer.  He's not great but he can get 3 outs more often than not. Jose Ramirez is their most effective arm but he's not special. Motte is a now a lighter version of Ramirez. There isn't any depth here as after that you get more and more blah arms that can't strike out anyone, walk too many, and unlike Motte and Ramirez, get hit all tht time. So they can hold onto a lead here and there, but the middle innings will suffer and they can't keep it going multiple games in a row.

Oh maybe defense then? Nah. Braves are good but not special. The infield defense is solid, which is why guys like Ramirez and Motte can succeed, but the OF defense can be pretty horrid as Markakis and Kemp have aged into the same territory Werth lives in.

The Nats may have suffered enough injury losses now to bring them back down to the rest of the NL East. I think it's fair to believe something like that. However they also have a huge lead so the rest of the NL East can't simply play as well as the Nats, they have to play much much better. Given their complete inability to keep their rotation healthy I can't see the Mets doing it. Can the Braves do it? I don't see that either. I suppose if Swanson is a 2nd half star and Teheran finds himself again then maybe. But they need both those things to happen.  AND they need to not let the division get away from them over the next three days. If they can take 2 of the next three I suppose it forces you to keep that eye on them 8.5 out, but only barely. If they can't do that then the Nats remain in cruise control. That is until the next handful of guys go down to injury.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Mets done

The Mets aren't going to pass the Nats in the standings. This shouldn't be surprising but I guess in some ways we are always looking for the path to failure.

The Mets lost Monday's game more than the Nats won it. Although we should all tip the hat to Strasburg for pitching like he did. Honestly though, when it comes down to the Nats bullpen versus anyone else's bullpen the Nats should lose. However, Terry Collins left super effective LOOGY Jerry Blevins (.155 / .211 / .169 vs LHB this year) in to face MAT.  Trouble is MAT bats right-handed and Blevins is .343 / .489 / .686 vs RHB this year. Yeah MAT's homer is in there but I hope you can see it was a bad idea. Few pitches later MAT homers, Nats have a cushion that they can blow, which of course they do, without losing the game. Then when a big out is needed Collins goes with Fernando Salas (Curently sporting a 6.31 ERA) instead of Addison Reed (2.59) because Reed is the closer and the Nats win! MVP Terry Collins!

Yesterday the Nats won it. Ross didn't pitch well* but got a lot of luck and his typical 40 runs of support. Yes Difo got a couple of hits, and everyone contributed but really it was Bryce going 3-4 with a walk and Murphy going 4-5 that did it. When the stars hit like stars that's usually enough.

The Mets are now 11.5 games out.  Because I like these things - if the Nats go .500 the rest of the year, they will finish 89-73. The Mets would have to go 52-27 to finish the year to beat that. That's basically having the best July, August, and September in the majors. You see that? I don't see that regardless of what happens tonight.

So that leaves the Braves (9 GB) as the last man standing. They too pretty much have to win the series against the Nats though.  After this week there will be only 6 H2H games between the two teams left. If the Braves are too far out the combination of things that have to happen outside of those games just might be too great. 

In trade deadline news - the Tigers are ready to be sellers, putting Verlander out there. They'll even eat salary for a big enough return. I'm not saying get Verlander but the Nats might be able to pull off something for say Justin Wilson then. Although he's almost certainly a complimentary piece. Alex Wilson (Very good before this year) would also be an interesting target in the same vein.  The Tigers don't really have the ideal player for the Nats in this scenario though - a veteran reliever with a contract they'd eat. They actually don't have any high paid relievers period. Contract wise the best starter piece they have is Anibal Sanchez, but he's been terrible for over a year now. I don't see the point in that. Maybe Alex Avila for back-up? He's not particularly great but he's cheap and better than Lobaton.

On the flipside - the Blue Jays are not ready to sell, or more realistically it makes more sense based on contracts to see what happens early next year.  It'll be easier to deal vets like Martin and Tulo with another year of salary gone. Donaldson-  teams getting him will lose a year but the value gotten back will probably wash out if he can be healthy and hit.  Honestly it's only a Happ deal that'll probably suffer for waiting a year.  Short of it - no Osuna for the Nats.

Braves series - then hopefully nothing but more trade talk. 

*Don't even try to say 8 hits, 3 walks, 2 homers is good, even in 7 innings. Any one watching that game saw it was a 5 runs in 5 IP affair saved by a lack of timely hitting by the Mets. 

Monday, July 03, 2017

Can the Nats last?

The Nats are in a better position than every other team not named Houston. They have a sizeable lead (7.5 games as of this morning). They are well over .500 (14 games). They had five players named to the all-star game and it could easily wind up being seven when it's all said and done. Yet things don't feel as good as they should. Why? Well yes, the pen but it's more than just that, isn't it?

Part of that is the fact 1/3rd of the Opening Day lineup is out for the forseeable future.  Trea Turner, Jayson Werth, and Adam Eaton are all on the DL and won't be back soon. Werth, the earliest likely return will probably be post-All-Star break. Turner might be back in late August. Eaton is done for the year. We're now down to Stephen Drew, Michael Taylor, and Brian Goodwin, which has worked out just fine but feels like a house of cards. This is especially true with the Nats catcher situation degrading to one of the worst in the big leagues as Wieters has become his worst plausible case (well below average in all aspects) and Lobaton has apparently died. RIP Jose.

Part of the fact is that the Nats can't seem to catch a break with the rotation depth. Gio followed up some luck in the early months with some honest to God good pitching in the last one to keep his stats up and his surprising season going. This should have given the Nats a 4 deep rotation at least. But at the same time the clock might have struck midnight on Roark as he's become incredibly hittable. Maybe Joe Ross is ready to turn the corner. He just delivered his first back to back decent games all season. But if not the Nats find themselves 3 deep in July when being 3 deep in October last year was a problem

Part of the fact is that these things have combined to make the Nats play mediocre baseball for a good couple months now.  A hot start got the Nats to 21-9 by May 6th.  Since then they've been 27-25. That's two months of 84 win ball. If we look at the past month it gets worse. The Nats were 34-19 on June 2nd. That means they've been under .500 for the past 30 days going 14-15 in that time frame.

This has all been hidden by the fact the NL East is the NL East.  From May 6th to Jun 22nd the Mets went 17-26.  From May 6th to June 16th the Braves went 18-20. From May 6th to May 27th the Marlins went 5-13 and are on a recent 6-9 stretch. From May 6th to Jun 21st the Phillies went 10-31.  The Nats spun their wheels in the mud but the rest of the league slid down the hill.  You'll notice thought that for the Mets and Braves the bad stretches don't stretch to today. They've been better recently and that means finally, after 6 weeks of playing .500 type ball and GAINING on the rest of the division, the Nats finally are losing ground.

The Nats are "only" 7.5 up now which is both a big lead for this time of year and their smallest lead since before Memorial Day. If the Braves (currently the 2nd place team) make up two more games it'll be the Nats' smallest lead since all the way back on May 10th. The Nats have lost 5 games in the standings in about a month. At that pace they would get caught in September.

We've said continuously the Nats are a very good to great team but the reality is they haven't played very good baseball for 7 weeks now.  If you want to be generous you can blame any number of things. The injuries. The pen and its psychological effects. The schedule, as we talked about a bunch earlier, has been a bear since before Memorial Day. But with 3 games versus the Mets and four versus the Braves starting tonight at home there's no more time for excuses. If the Nats want to keep the rest of the year boring they need to win these series. 2-1 over the Mets, 3-1 over the Braves will likely put the division lead back over 10 games leading into a much more favorable month of games versus some weaker squads with plenty of off days.

The Turner injury alone didn't change my feelings. I still think as these teams are constructed the Nats have it. But I also think we are at a tipping point now where one more injury to the Nats or a big acquisition by the Mets/Braves could change things. A 10+ game lead though, with a light schedule coming up through August 21st, that might be injury/acquisition proof. So do it damn it.

Side Note :
I added active stadiums #21 and #22 to my collection hitting KC and STL this past weekend. I've also seen games at 6 defunct stadiums. Both were actually pretty nice. I'd have to go with KC if forced to choose but it was closer than I thought. STL is definitely a cookie cutter in the model of the new stadium but it's a fine cookie. There isn't anything I can point to that's wrong. It may grow to be a stronger selection if the downtown of STL picks up a bit more. KC is off in the ouskirts in a parking lot with Arrowhead situation, but with the open bowl and the fountains and huge scoreboard it is just more unique. Both could use a bit of work in local food flavor. It would pay big dividends for KC to play up their ribs (Joe's was AWESOME) as much as possible. For STL... I'm not sure how they do this. KC's beer (mostly Boulevard all over but Boulevard is good) is also better than STL but that's to be expected in what is essentially Budweiser stadium. 

Oh since you'll ask TOR, LAA, OAK, NYM, ATL, LAD, ARI  to go.  Mets and Braves... I won't say I can hit "anytime" but I can certainly have these checked off with not too much effort. Other ones are going to take some planning. Defucnt ones are Yankee, Shea, RFK, Tiger, Turner, Metrodome.

Side note of side note :
I added Presidential Library #6 to my collection visiting HST's. Almost half-way there as there are 13 official ones currently. These are not all conveniently located though so it'll take more doing to get this done.

And since you'll ask I've hit FDR, HST, LBJ, GRF, JEC, RWR and yes I do know all their middle names off the top of my head. I visit Presidential Libraries for fun.